Prairie Doc Perspective: It’s time for your checkup

Andrew Ellsworth, M.D.
The Prairie Doc
Andrew Ellsworth, M.D.

Recently I received a mailing from my clinic reminding me it is time to schedule my annual preventative care physical. Apparently, doctors need to go to the doctor, too, even when they feel fine.

As a primary care physician, one of my passions is preventative care. Preventative care is focused on catching problems before they even start to cause symptoms, catching issues early when they are easier to treat.

Whether you want to call it your annual physical, your yearly checkup, or an annual wellness visit, this appointment gives the time for you and your provider to decide what tests, screenings, and interventions may be done to help you become and stay more healthy. One of the broken aspects of our healthcare system is our focus on problems, playing whack-a-mole, barely getting ahead, and spending too much money way too late on problems that could have been cured a lot sooner, a lot cheaper, with a little bit of effort at prevention.

This visit may go in a variety of ways depending on your age and risk factors. If you are over age 45, you should probably consider your options for colon cancer screening. If you are a woman over age 40, perhaps you should consider breast cancer screening. If you are a man over age 55, perhaps you should consider prostate cancer screening. Any of these screenings may need to start earlier if you have a family history of cancer.

Meanwhile, the visit should probably include a discussion on your mental health, your diet, and your exercise routines. Granted, these discussions take time. If you have a list of problems and symptoms you want to discuss, then perhaps you may need a separate visit to address your concerns, apart from the appointment to cover some of these preventative care topics.

Perhaps this visit will help give you a nudge to quit smoking, and a chance to catch lung cancer early by scheduling a screening CT scan of your lungs. Perhaps this visit will determine that you have high blood pressure or high cholesterol, and interventions could decrease your risk of a heart attack or stroke. Perhaps this visit will catch skin cancer early. Perhaps your provider will identify a medication you do not need anymore, or identify an over-the-counter medication or supplement you should or should not be taking such as vitamin D or aspirin. Are you taking your medications correctly?

The list goes on and on. Pap smears for cervical cancer screening. Reviewing your immunizations and updating a tetanus shot. DEXA scans help determine the strength of your bones and catch osteoporosis, trying to decrease your risk of a fall and a hip fracture.

I suppose I better make that appointment for myself!

Andrew Ellsworth, M.D. is part of The Prairie Doc® team of physicians and currently practices family medicine in Brookings, South Dakota. Follow The Prairie Doc® at and on Facebook.